Meditation Gaining Ground as Recreation and Therapy for the Senior Population
It has long been established that meditation has positive benefits, both mental and physical. What are some of these benefits and why do they occur? There is quite a bit of research on this, and we’ll briefly highlight some research that is directly applicable to our senior population.
Meditation may decrease cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimer’s
It is believed that meditating slows down the decrease in the volume of gray and white matter that occurs in the brain as we age and that it may reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging. One study found that “at age fifty, brains of meditators appeared to be 7.5 years younger” than non-meditators and that the benefits compounded with time. [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1053811916300404]
Why might this be true? A 2017 study of healthy, older adults suggests meditation may increase attention. The study took seniors in the 55-75 age group and had them practice meditation for 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, they were given the Stroop test while having their brains electronically monitored. The Stroop test showed a greatly improved ability to focus their attention and more activity in their brain in the region associated with attention compared to the control group. [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-015-0482-8]
Meditation can reduce loneliness
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many senior living operators to reduce or completely stop group activities. While necessary to contain the spread of the virus, this resulted in a significant increase in feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to one trial, meditation can reduce these feelings of isolation amongst older adults.
Meditation can reduce stress
In the area of meditation and stress reduction, there are literally hundreds of research-based papers supporting the link between meditation and stress reduction. As stated in one particular paper:
The stress response involves complex neuroendocrine changes characterized by increased sympathetic activation. TM (Transcendental Meditation) practice has been found to reduce baseline levels of stress hormones. It facilitates a more adaptive response to stress by the unique deep metabolic rest gained during the practice, in which the body’s homeostatic mechanisms normalize malfunctions in the system. [(https://tmforveterans.org/pdf/ptsd/TM-and-PTSD-White-Paper.pdf]
Meditation can help veterans
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a particular stress-based condition often associated with veterans. Meditation has been shown to be particularly effective for this population, also as stated in the above-reference paper. Meditation has been shown to be effective at treating several comorbidities that often occur in conjunction with PTSD in the veteran population, including veteran depression, veteran substance-use disorder, veteran stress, and veteran sleep disorders.
Meditation can improve heart function
Some of the best work done on the physical effect was done by Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (2008). One of the parameters of the study was to study vagal tone. The vagus nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system and is a direct link between the gut and the brain. A low vagal tone is a sign of functional digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel diseases. A high vagal tone correlates to good oxygenation of the blood, increased physical dexterity, and a positive mood.
The team at North Carolina randomly split people into 2 groups. One practiced meditation for 10 minutes every day for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, the subjects that practiced meditation had measurable increases in their vagal tone. Even more surprising was that these increases were still evident months after they stopped the meditation.
Part of the reason for these results is the role of Atropine. Atropine is a receptor that increases heart rate. Vagal tone helps stimulate the effectiveness of Atropine. Why is this of particular significance to seniors? Atropine produces a smaller increase in heart rate in the elderly than in young subjects.
Meditation in Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality presents a unique and innovative way to amplify meditation and make it effective no matter where a person is located or the environment surrounding them. Virtual Reality meditation was specifically studied by researchers at the Neuro Meditation Institute. Their brain scans showed visually the effects that meditation was having on the brain.
The first picture is looking at fast brainwave activity (gamma) in the anterior cingulate. Blue colors indicate that gamma activity decreased significantly during the meditation. This is important because this part of the brain often becomes overactivated when feeling stress or anxiety or when we become fixated on thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. By helping this area to relax, the brain is shifting into a more relaxed, peaceful state.
In the second image, we switch from examining fast brainwaves to looking at slow brainwaves. In particular, we are looking at alpha activity in the Precuneus. This part of the brain is the hub of the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN). When the DMN is quieter, as seen here, this suggests that the person is not thinking about themselves (or their worries) as much, which is exactly what we would hope to see during this experience.
The full study can be found at : https://www.neuromeditationinstitute.com/listednews/your-brain-on-vr-mindfulness-in-nature-wmmkn
A similar study on virtual reality and pain management confirmed what many previous studies found. "Virtual reality is not only changing the way people interpret the incoming pain, it is changing the actual activity in the brain,” said Hunter Hoffman, director of the VR Analgesia Research Center at the UW’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, a facility affiliated with the University’s College of Engineering.
The full study can be found at : https://www.washington.edu/news/2004/06/24/reducing-pain-virtual-reality-changes-brain-response-not-just-perception/
MyndVR is a leader in improving senior health and wellness through the use of virtual reality. As such, we are excited to introduce the addition of a meditation application to our standard offering of virtual travel, nature, adventure, learning, arts & music, and more. We believe the addition of these guided meditation experiences can greatly benefit the lives of older adults, and through regular updates like this, MyndVR will continue to stand out as an integral program for the senior population.